Your Guide to Washington State Vehicle Registration

There are certain big life changes that come with a lot of paperwork. Two examples are moving and also buying a car. In both instances, you’ll have to deal with updating your records. If you recently made the move to Washington or purchased a vehicle there, you’ll want to update your vehicle registration and make sure you’re in good standing. Read on to learn how to register a car in Washington and why it’s important.

How to Register a Car in Washington | Metromile

Do you have to register a car in Washington? 

You may think that you just need your driver’s license to legally drive but that’s not exactly true. While you do need your license, you also need to register the car you’re driving as well and likely have car insurance as well. 

In fact, all states legally require that drivers register their car within the state they live in. When you register your car, you’re creating a paper trail that shows that you own your specific vehicle. 

It’s used if you get pulled over and need to verify your identity and prove your ownership of the vehicle. Registering a car also is a way for local transportation authorities to collect fees related to you driving on the road. 

Who needs to register car in Washington? 

If you recently made the move to Washington, you’ll need to update to Washington state vehicle registration. Just like you need to update your address with the post office, your shipping and billing address when you shop online, and your health insurance, you’ll also need to update your car registration. 

If you purchased a vehicle in Washington and live there, your registration is likely taken care of for you if you bought it at a dealership. However, if you bought used from a private party, you likely need to take care of registering the car yourself. 

How to register a car in Washington?

If you need to register a car in Washington, the process will vary slightly depending if you moved or purchased a vehicle — though the processes in Washington for registering after a move and registering after a car purchase are pretty similar. 

If you’re new to the Evergreen State, you’ll need to get a Washington driver’s license first then register your car in the state and update your license plates. New residents are required to do this within 30 days of establishing residency. You’ll also need:

  • To submit your Vehicle Title Application (if mailed, will need to be signed in front of a notary) 
  • To fill out an Odometer Disclosure Statement, depending on your car model (models from 2010 or older aren’t required to do this but models from 2011 or newer are)
  • To fill out and submit a Vehicle/Vessel Bill of Sale, if you’ve been living in another state and the car has been registered and owned for less than 90 days 
  • To bring your current Certificate of Title (if you financed your car and are making payments, the lender should fax a copy of the title to the licensing office. Once it’s paid in full, you can apply for a Washington title.) 
  • To submit payment for registration 
  • To get your Washington license plate (in the office will be right away, by mail will take up to three weeks) 
  • To create a License eXpress account 
  • To consider creating a Good to Go! Account, if you travel on bridges or certain routes that require tolls, 

If you purchase a car from a dealership, typically they’ll handle title and registration for you. But if you purchased a used car from a private party, here’s how to register your car:

  • Fill out and submit the Vehicle Title Application (either at an office or in front of a notary) 
  • Fill out and submit the Vehicle/Vessel Bill of Sale which you and the seller will fill out 
  • Have your current vehicle title ready
  • Fill out and submit an Odometer Disclosure Statement, if the car is from 2011 or newer 
  • Submit payment for registration fees 
  • Get brand new license plates to reflect the new ownership 
  • Add this current vehicle to your License eXpress account 

After purchasing a vehicle from a private party, you have 15 days to transfer the ownership and get your records updated. If not, you could face penalty fees amounting to $50 on the 16th day and $2 per day every day after that, up to a maximum of $125. 

How much does it cost to register a car in Washington? 

Registering a car costs money but each state and each situation will vary. According to the Department of Licensing (DOL) site, “Fees are different for every situation and are calculated many ways. Everyone starts with the basic fees of $43.25 and things like vehicle weight, location, and taxes determine your final amount.”

The breakdown of registration fees is: 

  • Basic renewal fee = $30 
  • County filing fee = $4.50 
  • License service fee = $0.75
  • Service fee = $8 

You then pay that $43.25 on top of whatever fee is associated with the weight of your vehicle. Vehicle weight fees are:

  • $25 for cars up to 4,000 pounds
  • $45 for cars between 4,001 and 6,000 pounds
  • $65 for cars between 6,001 and 8,000 pounds
  • $72 for cars 8,001 pounds and over 

You also may have to pay a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) fee if you live in the following cities:

  • Seattle, $80+
  • Spokane, $20+
  • Wenatchee, $20+
  • Olympia, $40+

Lastly, you may need to pay additional fees if you live in King, Pierce, or Snohomish counties in the form of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Tax. This is calculated based on the MSRP and a specific depreciation schedule set by the law. The equation to calculate the RTA tax based on DOL info is: 

Current year – year of vehicle + 1 = years of service (value decreases each year in service) Original MSRP x depreciated percentage = Depreciated value (based on years in service) Depreciated value x 1.1% (current RTA rate) = RTA amount due.

Is proof of insurance required to register car in Washington? 

If you have a vehicle that needs to be updated with a Washington state vehicle registration, you need to have proof of insurance, self insurance, certificate of deposit, or a liability bond. A 2019 law mandated that Washington drivers carry some form of minimum liability coverage. The requirements are: 

  • $25,000 to cover injury or death to another person
  • $50,000 to cover injuries or death for multiple people
  • $10,000 to cover damage to another party’s property 

Getting car insurance is one of the easiest ways to cover this requirement. If you’re on the road and caught driving without insurance you may be hit with a fine of $550 or more. If you get into an accident, you may be on the hook for any damages and your license could be suspended. 

The bottom line 

Moving or buying a car can be a big life milestone. It can also mean doing additional paperwork to make sure you’re all set. By using this guide, you can learn how to register a car in Washington and make sure you get all your records updated to Washington state car registration. 

If you’ve recently moved or just want to shop around, now is a great time to check your car insurance rate. If you don’t drive that often, you may be a low-mileage driver and get the most out of pay-per-mile insurance where you pay a nominal base rate and several cents each mile you drive. Check out your rate with Metromile to see if it’s the right fit for you. 

Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.